Public Invited to Black History Month Presentation at the Bijou Theatre

Communications Director

Eric Vreeland
evreeland@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-3480

400 Main St., Room 654A
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Public Invited to Black History Month Presentation at the Bijou Theatre

Posted: 02/13/2019
Red Hot Summer.Join Knox County Public Library and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center to observe the centennial of the 1919 Knoxville Race Riots at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2019 at the Bijou Theatre.

The Heat of a Red Summer: 100 Years Later will feature the Knoxville Opera Gospel Choir performing jazz, rhythm and soul, and negro spirituals; ballet, West African drum and dance, and drama from the Austin-East Magnet High School performing arts department; and a performance of the award-winning theatrical piece “The Cure” from students of Morristown West High School.

Local historian and civil rights activist Robert Booker will be on site to sign copies of his newly re-released book The Heat of a Red Summer. The event is free and open to the public.

In 1919, Knoxville exploded in a firestorm of racial hatred and violence when a black man was accused of murdering a white woman. Knoxville prided itself as an accepting, harmonious community that had sympathized with the North during the Civil War; there had never been a lynching and black residents could hold public office and serve as police officers. This outward geniality was shaken as veterans returned home from World War I to face a recession and job shortages. Tension between black citizens and working-class whites reached a fevered pitch.

When Mrs. Bertie Lindsey was murdered in her home in August 1919, police arrested prominent mixed-race businessman Maurice Mays, despite a glaring lack of evidence. An angry white mob stormed the jail where they erroneously believed Mays was being kept and then turned their attack to downtown Knoxville. Black business owners violently defended their livelihoods from the looting rioters and the National Guard was brought in to try to quell the assault. After two days of chaos, the death toll was reportedly in the dozens.

While downplayed by many community leaders, the 1919 Knoxville Race Riots had a profound effect on the black community and prompted hundreds of black families to move out of the city permanently. 

Beck President Reneé Kesler says, “The summer of 1919 is critically important. The NAACP was formed in Knoxville in early August of that year with James G. Beck, the center’s namesake, as the first Secretary; the race riots occurred at the end of that month and just a few weeks later women, African American included, would go to the polls and vote for the first time in Knoxville. History must never be left alone, we must wrestle with it until all are set free and until this world is a better place to live.”